The two railways at Harlaxton Manor and Stoke Rochford Hall are by no means the only examples of large country houses using rail transport to shift fuel, food, luggage and laundry around the capacious service wings. Belton House [http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-beltonhouse.htm], on the other side of Grantham from Harlaxton and Stoke Rochford have hand-propelled railways, installed in the 1930s, connecting the kitchen in the courtyard with the basement of the main house.
Haddon Hall [http://www.haddonhall.co.uk/], near Bakewell in Derbyshire, was made habitable from 1912 onwards by the then Marquis of Granby, later the 9th Duke of Rutland. Bringing the fully-fitted seventeenth-century kitchen into any kind of modern use was impractical, so a new kitchen was constructed in outbuildings a couple of hundred yards away. This is now the tearoom for visitors to Haddon: one end of the cable-operated railway can be seen inside the tearoom entrance; the other is customarily hidden behind a dresser opposite the entrance to the medieval kitchen which forms part of the house tour. The tunnel itself is blocked as a fire-precaution, but interested visitors are invited to ask a room-steward to show the remains of the railway within the medieval kitchen.
Most celebrated of all, but least seen, is the 5th Duke of Portland’s rail system in the cellars of Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire. The “burrowing” Duke went to enormous lengths to live his later life out of sight of his servants, visitors and the world at large. The railway, with hand-propelled carts, operated in combination with the technologically up-to-the-minute hydraulic lifts to streamline domestic freight in the Abbey.
A heated cart, like a grand Victorian predecessor of a 1950s hostess trolley, enabled His Grace to order food fast. To avoid speaking to his servants he customarily sent his orders – “I shall only want rice pudding at one” – by means of twin letterboxes on the door of his suite in the west wing. When in residence he had a standing order for chicken to be roasting twenty-four hours a day. This fast food could be delivered to his apartment without fuss by the grace of contemporary modern technology.
Welbeck Abbey and Harlaxton Manor feature in Mike Higginbottom’s lecture English Country Houses – not quite what they seem. For further details, please click here.
The 40-page, A4 handbook for the 2010 tour Country Houses of Lincolnshire, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £7.50 including postage and packing. It contains chapters on Boothby Pagnell Manor House, Ellys Manor House, Belton House, Grimsthorpe Castle, Fulbeck Hall, Fulbeck Manor, Leadenham House, Harlaxton Manor and Stoke Rochford Hall. To view sample pages click here. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.